The Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center prompted the Geneva, Switzerland-based forum to relocate its Jan. 31-Feb. 4 annual meeting from the Swiss resort of Davos this year, but organizers of its "Disaster Response Network" say the initiative stems from an earthquake in Gujarat, India, in early 2001. "There was a huge need to mobilize but no mechanism to do it," says Robert Prieto, a co-founder of the network and chairman of Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York City.

While most press were barred from forum sessions, disaster network officials convened a special press conference to announce its formation. "Having an established commitment from prominent engineering and transportation firms...makes utmost sense since these industries form the backbone of skills needed in expediting rescue and recovery efforts," said forum President Klaus Schwab.

Officials say it could cost at least $200,000 to launch the network over the next year and attract participants. About 14 engineering, construction and transportation firm members of the forum have committed resources, including financial support. These include top executives of Turner International, Leo A Daly, Skanska AB, the U.K.'s Halcrow Group Ltd., Bechtel Enterprises Holdings Inc., India's Hindustan Construction Co. and Ryder usa, among others. "Nobody we've asked has said no," says Prieto.

The network anticipates creating a Web-based clearinghouse of global participants, equipment and specialized expertise, and will focus as well on training employees in disaster relief efforts, says Lynn C. Fritz, another co-founder and director general of Fritz Institute, a San Francisco logistics management firm. "We want to be the one organization that relief agencies call," he says. Adds Prieto: "Sept. 11 reinforced the need for talent and equipment."

mid throngs of protesters and battalions of police outside, government and business leaders inside the New York City hotels hosting last week's World Economic Forum announced a host of "initiatives" to improve world conditions. These include an effort by construction and transportation firms to coordinate an industry response to natural and man-made disasters.